The Tree

Dear Reader!

Another nice story for you. Fiction. Now without the angry rant.

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—————————The Tree————————————————————

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Madeline finds the tree on a Wednesday. She is walking. The tree, its trunk massive, its bark like elephant skin, is on Gantenbien and Shaver. The tree is behind a small board fence, and its limbs extend out over the street. It is the largest tree, says Madeline, between MLK and the river.

It is the very end of wintertime, the wet season, and rain falls every day. Madeline walks everywhere. She has hurt her wrist, and so she cannot ride her bicycle. She also cannot play her violin. The violin, expensive and beautiful, sits in its case, and exudes the lonely smell of rosin.

Without her violin or her bicycle, Madeline feels that she lacks a sense of purpose. Sadness gathers around her like spiderwebs. But sadness is beautiful, and so is walking, and walking is what brought her to the tree.

One afternoon, Madeline is passing beneath the tree when buckets of water begin to fall from the dark, clouded sky. Madeline stands, clutching her wool coat, and watches the water fall. The circle of sidewalk and grass beneath the tree is dry, and after five minutes the clouds are exhausted, and they roll rapidly away, and the sun comes out, and Madeline is able to continue on her way.

Sometimes, on her walks, Madeline stops in front of the tree, and talks to it. She puts her small hands on the board fence and leans over into the patch of dirt in which the tree sits and she tells the tree that she is sure that one day, she and the tree will be together. Behind the tree is a house. In the house live people who Madeline does not know. On the porch is a chair, and a big window, behind which Madeline can see a dog. The mail comes to the house at four in the afternoon. Once, through the big window, Madeline saw a woman bent over the kitchen sink, rinsing spaghetti in a colander. Another day, while Madeline stood on the sidewalk, beneath the shadow of the tree, she saw an old woman step from a Volvo and walk slowly up the to the board fence, holding her sweater closed against her chest. That was Sunday, the day that the people of the neighborhood keep irregular hours, have cookouts, and congregate. Madeline feels loneliest on Sunday, and her life, on that day, seems to have the least purpose. After seeing the old woman, Madeline walked on, and after a few moments she passed the big open doors of the catholic church. Through the church doors she could smell incense and dim, dusty air. An ornate, windowless cathedral obscures the baldness of everyday life, thought Madeline, as continued to walk.

Today is Tuesday, a cloudy day, and Madeline stands beneath the tree. It is a workday, and the house is silent, save for the dog, who whines at the window. Madeline leans against the fence and waits until the mail carrier drops the letters into the metal receptacle beside the front door. He does not see her, standing there, and she watches him go, his calves muscular beneath his blue canvas shorts. Mail carriers, she thinks, have more of a sense of purpose than almost anyone. Gently, Madeline lifts the latch on the small board fence, and crosses the dirt yard, and steals up the front steps of the house. She reaches her small hand into the mailbox and extracts a blue envelope. She puts it into the pocket of her wool coat. Back in the dirt yard, she presses her hand against the tree. Then she walks home.

The blue envelope contains a dentist’s bill for three composite fillings. There is a two hundred dollar deductible, thirty dollars is the remainder.

Madeline is standing in her small room, and she turns the bill over in her hands. Her heavy velvet curtains are drawn over the windows. Her violin case sits, neglected, next to her stack of library books. Each day, when she would be playing her violin, she reads a library book instead. She also reads the books at night, when she cannot sleep.

Madeline looks at the bill for clues. It is a single piece of paper, folded three times, addressed to a man. It was printed on a computer, although someone has circled the outstanding balance with a red pen. Who? Did the dentist do this? Or his secretary? Madeline folds the bill, and returns it to its envelope.

At five o’clock the next afternoon, Madeline again mounts the steps of the house on whose property her tree lives. This time, Madeline rings the doorbell, pressing her finger firmly against the round brass button. The dog, inside, hears her movements, and begins to bark. The floorboards rattle and then the door opens, and a woman stands in the doorway. The woman is wearing loose athletic pants and her brown hair is pulled back from her face. She carries a pomegranate, broken open, and the fingers of her hand are stained red.

Hello.” Says Madeline, before the woman can speak. “I got a piece of your mail by accident. I live a little west of here.” Madeline holds the blue envelope out in front of her.

The woman shakes her head.

We’re in between routes, so there’s no regular mail carrier on this route. I’m sorry.”

I opened it by accident,” says Madeline, “before I looked at the address.”

The woman takes the envelope in the hand that is not holding the pomegranate, and glances at its front.

That’s alright.” she says. “It’s just a bill.”

The dog, who has been pushing against the woman’s leg, gets loose and stands on the porch beneath Madeline, trembling. Madeline puts her small hand on the dog’s wide, flat back.

What’s your dog’s name?” She asks.

Rupert.” Says the woman, frowning.

Oh!” Says Madeline, her fingers stroking the dog’s fur. “I used to have a dog just like this! When I was a kid. Or my grandpa did, rather.” She runs her hand under the dog’s collar, and scratches him there. The dog closes his eyes, although his body continues to wriggle.

Really?” Says the woman. “He’s a mastiff shepherd pit-bull mix. My mother got him at the pound. Rupert!” She admonishes the dog. “Rupert go inside!” The dog ceases to wriggle and looks up at Madeline with wet, dark-brown eyes.

He’s a handful.” Says the woman. “I’ve been taking care of him since my mother’s been sick, and he won’t do anything that I say. Rupert!” She barks at the dog. “Rupert!”

Madeline sighs.

I just can’t believe how much he looks like the dog my grandfather had when I was a kid.” She looks up at the woman. “Say, you wouldn’t need a dog walker, would you? I’ve got a lot of time on my hands right now. And I live right down the street.”

The woman scrunches up her face, and looks out at the street.

You wouldn’t have to pay me.” Madeline puts both her hands on the dog. “I could come by tomorrow, even, in the afternoon.”

The woman looks at Madeline.

He pulls.” She says. “He’s not used to being walked.”

That’s alright.” Says Madeline. “My grandpa’s dog used to pull too. I’m used to dogs that pull.”

The woman sighs.

That sure would help me out. Tell you what. I’ll put him in the yard, and I’ll leave the leash draped over the gate. It would be amazing if you could walk him.” She sighs again, and the lines around her mouth relax. “I work at the hospital, and I’m not always around to give him exercise. He gets pent up in the house, and eats my magazines. And he pees on the kitchen floor.”

That’s awful.” Says Madeline. The corners of the woman’s mouth get tight again, and she looks as if she might cry.

The dog moves closer to Madeline.

My name’s Madeline.” She says.

Bethany.” Says the woman. The woman drops the envelope on a table by the door and they shake hands, the woman’s limp, cool hand in Madeline’s small warm one.

That sure would be a help.” Says Bethany again. She looks at the hand that holds the pomegranate, at the fingers where the juice has dried.

I better get going.” Says Madeline. “I’ve got to get home.”

Alright.” Says the woman, and nods. “We’ll see you tomorrow.” She steps inside, and the dog follows her. She closes the door.

On Wednesday Madeline eats a lunch of goat cheese, corn tortillas, and cold coffee, and then she walks to Gantenbein and Shaver. The day is clear and cool, and the tree shakes its small serrated leaves at her, making a rattling like castanets. It is springtime. Madeline unlatches the gate and steps into the small dirt yard. The dog is there, lying in the sun, and it lifts its head to look at her, unalarmed. Madeline walks up to the tree and stretches her arms wide, leaning her full weight against its bark. The bark is smooth and convoluted, and smells faintly of vanilla. Madeline leans her cheek against the tree, and breathes its smell. In front of her face is a dark, dusty crevice, and Madeline runs her fingers along its edges, thinking of the tiny creatures that make their homes there.

They make their homes there, in the furrows of the bark, and it is world enough for them.

There is dappled light beneath the tree, and Madeline lays down in it. She watches the spring sky through the way high-up boughs of the tree. The dog gets up, crosses the dirt yard, and collapses next to Madeline. She can feel the very tips of his hairs where they brush the arm of her sweater. She reaches over, and puts one hand on the dog. She can feel his ribs rising, and beneath that, the gentle pounding of his heart. The yard is quiet, and down the street, a wind chime tinkles. A single cloud sets out across the sky, and Madeline watches it wend its way among the tree leaves.

They make their homes there, in the furrows of the bark, and it is world enough for them.

Madeline wakes on her side, her shoulder wedged painfully in the dirt. Her arm is around the dog, who is facing away, asleep. Warmth comes from his fur and Madeline thinks, momentarily, of a bear.

She stands, and brushes off her clothing. She does not know what time it is, but the afternoon has clouded over, and the air feels like rain. Madeline lifts the leash from the fence, and moves it to the porch. Then she latches the gate behind her, and walks home.

For the next week, Madeline is abruptly busy, and she does not have time for her usual walks. Her mother is in town, unexpectedly, with the man she is dating, and Madeline accompanies them to the Japanese gardens, the bookstore, and the rose festival. She has dinner with them on the rooftop of a restaurant on Burnside, and she drinks enough wine to insure that she does not have to fake enthusiasm over the cool steamed mussels and dry, salty bread. Madeline’s mother talks enough for ten people, and requires nothing from Madeline but the audience. Madeline’s mother works for an insurance company, and has a cat named Ginger who she does not, as far as Madeline can tell, love. Madeline’s mother has a bad foot which requires constant salt baths and the vibrations of small electrical appliances ordered from Parade magazine. Madeline’s mother’s boyfriend repairs tractors, builds birdhouses from small scraps of wood, and speaks only in the literal. They live, together, in a manufactured home in eastern Washington.

By the time Madeline rounds the corner of Shaver onto Gantenbein and sees the tree’s great bulk before her, like a ship in the air, nearly eight days have passed. It is mid-morning, and the house is silent. Madeline stands, looking at the tree’s grey trunk, and then she sees the leash, draped neatly over the gate. The dog, too, is there, resting in the yard. It stands when it sees Madeline, and small sticks and bits of debris hang from its shaggy coat.

Madeline circles the tree, tracing her fingers along its girth. The lowest limb is a good few feet above her head, and she fetches the wooden chair from the porch, and sets it against the base of the tree. Standing on the chair, she can just wrap her hands around the tree’s lowest limb. Tensing her muscles, she swings her legs up against the tree and then walks them up over the limb. For a moment she hangs, feeling the wrinkles in the tree’s cool bark where they bite into her skin. Then she swings up, and into the tree.

Once she is in the tree, the leaves close around her, and she is invisible. Madeline looks below her, at the wooden chair, and at the dog’s upturned face. She looks above her, at the tree’s great, kaleidoscoping mass, and around her, at all the other limbs within reach. She finds a groove in the bark in which she is able to fit the tip of her canvas slipper, and a knot which fits, almost perfectly, in the palm of her hand, and she lifts herself up.

Look! I wrote something!

My chemistry homework makes an appearance, as does North Dakota.

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S A D

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It has gotten cold here, sometimes
sometimes it is not cold, but the air is filled with water like someone is misting us
like we are fragile plants that need misting
It has gotten sometimes cold but dark
dark, dark, dark
I do not know where I am
that it is so dark out
where have the trees gone? the sky? the road?
my eyes hurt from non-light
six o’clock feels like ten p.m.
I do not know what to do with this.
I have gone to the gym,
I watched TV on the elliptical trainer.
I do not like the gym.
when I was younger, I rode my bike through the dark, mist stinging my face, grimacing in pain.
I was fearless and brave.
when the ride was over I do not remember how I felt. Transcendent, like I had gone through the oracles and not been shot with laser eyes,
or just cold and wet and miserable, reminded that life is suffering.
My ears painfully red
the leather of my shoes damp
my bicycle rusted.
Now it is dark and I research light-therapy lamps on the internet
with 10,000 Kelvin bulbs
and it doesn’t make me feel any better.
I want to fold up into myself, I want to go blind. I want to find a giant puppy, eviscerate it, and climb inside for heat. I want to drop out of college and go somewhere colder but brighter, like North Dakota. I would have no friends. Friends and light frequently shift on the antique brass scales of my heart.
The country is like a periodic table, light increasing as you go east. I am the element Lithium. I am Oregon. North Dakota is a transition metal and Alaska is a noble gas. I want to go to one of the places that has not been discovered yet, Sunny Ununtrium where the ecosystems are still intact and no-one believes in science. The people who live there talk with their hands and use their voices only for singing. They live in huts thatched with palm fronds and eat coconuts and raw sea-beast. There are giant spiders. But would that really be any different than riding the lightrail downtown, bathed in fluorescent lights and off-gassing plastic? And off-gassing people, who don’t eat any vegetables, who wear too many layers and live in dark, moldy houses. These people have nothing but at least there are cats for them, cats they can feed dry kibble made from the bodies of euthanized shelter animals. Mostly euthanized pit bulls.

I want something exciting to happen. Something really big, like an explosion. Maybe the earth will crash into the sun and all of our molecular bits will dissolve into everything, heat and light and then infinite, infinite cold. I’m not sure if that is better than the park outside my school, where the pumpkin-orange of the maples clashes so well with the grey, grey, sky, and the mist that makes an infinite continuum of the sky. The sky falling down all around us, sifting down, permeating matter and dissolving the trampled leaves. There is beauty here, but there is not light. It is so still it makes me tired. I want to freeze in place on the bricks where I sit until I become a stone and can talk with the trees. We’ll look down at all the people and the bright white glass of the buildings and we won’t think anything.

Tea tree oil to treat infection in impacted wisdom teeth until a dentist can be seen- a fable

Today was busy, and devoid of nature, and I ate several random, stupid things, and now as I sit at the end of it with my healthy, well-balanced dinner, I have a cautionary tale for you.

Allopathic doctors do not have your best interests in mind.

They are a product of the pharmaceutical industry and they do not care about you. They think you are stupid, and that you have no original thoughts, and that you are incapable of critical thinking. They do not trust you to take care of your own body. I do not trust them, and so it is a mutual trustlessness. We circle each other, the doctor with her big red dusty book, and me in my paper dress. I want to claw them like a feral, cornered cat, when they will not give me the exact drug that my naturopath recommended (but cannot prescribe), when they tell me that something new and abnormal “Is just part of my anatomy”, when they constantly interrupt me and roll their eyes and then charge me hundreds of dollars. I want to yowl and claw them and tear their eyes out and then run away and hide in the woods where I am safe and no-one can ever find me. I’ll start a militia with the Barefoot bandit and we’ll live off huckleberries and make clothes out of cedar. We’ll grow our own herbs and stage raids on hospitals for medical supplies and set up clandestine clinics where treatment is free. We’ll write catchy songs with anti-pharmaceutical industry lyrics and spread our propaganda on the internet until everyone is free, and then we’ll break the internet.

I saw the dentist today. My left bottom wisdom tooth has been impacted for about a hundred years, and yesterday it finally decided to become infected. This is amazing because as of three weeks ago, for the first time in my life, I have health insurance, on account of starting school. So today I called the dental clinic and they gave me an appointment right away, so that I could be seen before the infection spread to my neck and suffocated me. So I rushed through breakfast (fried eggs and corn tortillas rolled into tacos, dripping yolk all over my fingers) and biked to school as fast as I could. In the dentist’s office the assistant put a lead apron on me and x-rayed my head and made me bite on pieces of sharp plastic and then left me in the chair, looking out the nice window at the nice tree with its nice leaves turning orange-ish. The dentist came clacking in her heels and smiled gently at me while she washed her hands. She had a soft thin face and her jewelry glimmered modestly. She stuck her metal scraper in my mouth and tapped at each one of my precious, steadfast teeth.

“There are so many cavities.” She said. “You have cavities all around your fillings and bigger cavities on the other side where you don’t have fillings. We can go ahead and set up a treatment plan to get all of these cavities filled.”

There was a picture of a tree on the ceiling. This is why my university is called “the greenest university”, I thought. Because, in the dentist’s office, there is a picture of a tree on the ceiling.

“No,” I said. “I just want to get the wisdom tooth out.” Then I told her that in January, when I have money, I plan on paying someone almost all of it to remove the amalgam fillings that I already have.

Her dainty metal pick stopped in mid-air.

“Why would you want to do that?” she asked.

“Because,” I said, “exposure to mercury, even in small amounts, contributes to long-term chronic digestive problems, and I have long-term chronic digestive problems, and the number one source of mercury exposure is amalgam fillings, which begin to wear slightly as they age.”

Her mouth scrunched up, wrinkling her pale lipstick, as if she had smelled something bad. Fear crept through me as I realized that I had broken one of the most ancient taboos of western medicine- Thou shalt not challenge thy medical professional.

“Then, after that, I’m going to get composite fillings,” I said. “the white ones. That don’t have metal.”

“Well,” she said, as she set down her pick. “as long as you’re well informed of the drawbacks to those fillings…”

“I know that they don’t last as long,” I said. “I know that having your mercury fillings removed can expose you to more mercury than if you just left them in, if you don’t go to a dentist who specializes in that sort of thing. I’ve done lots of research.”

The dentist grimaced, but just barely. I was obviously insane, ranting about nothing. Another lunatic who thinks they know something, just because they read it on the internet, or heard it from lots of other people who had the same experience, when everyone knows that all fact about the human body comes shooting people full of chemicals in giant, pharmaceutical-backed clinical studies. The dentist frowned absurdly and returned the pick to my mouth. She was no longer cheerily ushering me into the land of oral health. She was enduring.

After confirming that my mouth was riddled with cavities, the dentist handed me an antibiotic prescription for the inflammation in my wisdom tooth.

“This will help with the pain until your extraction.” she said.

“I don’t think I’ll take that.” I said. “The extraction is on Saturday, I think I can make it three days without needing an antibiotic.”

The dentist set her jaw and looked at me strangely.

“Infection in lower wisdom teeth can spread very rapidly.” She said gently. “Infection can enlarge the glands and interfere with swallowing and, ultimately, breathing.” The dentist swung the tray away and removed my paper bib. I thought of the time, two and half years ago, when my other lower wisdom tooth had become infected. At the time I was living in a yurt on the Olympic peninsula and I had no money. The tooth was swollen and painful, I could barely chew, and when I squeezed the gum, yellow puss came out. I mixed a few drops of tea tree oil in a glass of water, on advice from Allie, my land-mate, who’d done it once on a bike trip, and gargled with the mixture twice a day. The puss disappeared, and then the swelling and the pain. I kept the infection entirely at bay for six months, until I finally had the money to see a dentist.

I didn’t tell the dentist this.

The rest of the day was unremarkable. I hadn’t packed a lunch and so ate underwhelming, expensive foods from around my school- a weird food bar that was made from oats and raisins mashed up, bland sushi, beans and rice with an anti-climactic scoop of guacamole. When I finally got home at eight I made dinner, green beans sautéed in bacon fat (YUM) and pinto beans and risotto rice, and I made up a tea-tree mixture, and I swished it around in my mouth. Now it is night and cold and I am going to make a fire in my woodstove, again, from the pile of scrap wood outside my cottage, and then I am going to sit next to it, and listen to it crackle. And while I sit there I am going to think of people, of humans, of how wonderful and smart and clever and good we are. And I am going to think about all of the knowledge that we have, knowledge that goes back thousands and thousands of years. And it is knowledge that is written down and passed down from one person to the next but it is also knowledge that is inside of us, that we have with us always, that is stronger than anything. And if there is one thing that we can trust, it should be that.